Effecting Social Change through 


Video Volunteers


Iris C F Gomes


Our television screens are assaulted on a daily basis with news channels and news that aims at sensationalism rather than illuminating the public and making a difference. We have to get on in life with the firm understanding that journalism is manipulated by the powers that be to their own end. However, the work of organisations such as Video Volunteers gives us some hope of salvaging the image of journalism while concentrating on social changes and creating awareness about various issues that are detrimental to society.


Video Volunteers is an international media and human rights organisation that has its own news service called IndiaUnheard. Its Managing Trustee, Stalin K Padma, is an award winning documentary filmmaker and a human rights activist. He informs us of the dismal business of journalism these days. Freedom of speech and expression has no value if it is controlled to limit, distort or supress information and in some cases certain communities are pointedly silenced.


A year and a half ago the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) conducted a study of about 350 odd mainstream media decision makers and made some interesting discoveries. Forward caste men make up 84% of the decision makers, and the rest are forward caste women with no space whatsoever for tribal people or Dalits. Stalin K asserts that the tone and agenda for the news is set by the leading news channel in the country which is again controlled by a specific group of people. In television as well as in newsprint, you find 98% of the news coverage focuses on urban issues when 76% of India’s population resides in rural areas. The news leans towards topics that do not adequately represent religious minorities. ‘What the times now really need is these two things, specifically where Video Volunteers is concerned, development without compromising the values and principles of democracy or treating human rights as collateral damage all the time,’ says Stalin. Creating your own content seems to be the answer in the face of the ‘news’ that is disseminated via various channels. This is where Video Volunteers comes in.


IndiaUnheard focuses on community problems that remain unaddressed. Video Volunteers trains local community volunteers known as Community Correspondents (CC). These volunteers are paid a fee of 2500- 4000 rupees depending on the content, the work involved and seniority level They have to undergo intensive training before they take on the job. They are individuals recommended by and connected to NGOs and social activism groups, and are committed to alter the socio-economic scene in their locale. Stalin says of the Community Correspondents, ‘More than 30% belong to indigenous, that is, tribal groups; about 33% are Dalits; 52% are women and about 12% belong to religious minorities. We have only one transgender, which we are not so proud of. Hopefully we should be correcting that.’


There are 187 Community Correspondents operating over 150 or so districts and all of them are economically underprivileged. Of these districts, 110 come under the ‘disturbed’/ naxal affected areas list of the Indian Government. ‘The reason for this is that issues of disturbance are mostly to do with development, particularly to do with land,’ says Stalin. The videos are a few minutes in length, and are factual and subjective instead of following the standard diktat of objectivity in journalism. The reason for this is that journalism is incapable of presenting an objective view. What it does, rather, is present multiple viewpoints which are in turn subjective.


The Community Correspondents send the video to the main office through any means available to them but usually through the internet or by post. It can be a struggle since these places are remote and far away from the basic amenities and means of communication that we in better developed areas are privileged to enjoy. There is one lady CC who climbs coconut trees to tap into the internet range on her phone. The video may be edited if the CC is not proficient in doing so and then the video is uploaded on YouTube and also shown on partnering media channels, for example Doordarshan. The concerned authorities are shown the video too. The CC follows up on the problem with subsequent videos. If a positive result is achieved then an Impact video is made on this basis. The CC receives Rs 7000 or 7500 for an Impact video, nevertheless, it is their social conscience that is satisfied by the transformation that the videos bring out; the money is of little consequence. Stalin says, ‘Here marginalised communities are empowered to produce stories. Take action and devise solutions.’

Smaller issues such as making sure there are primary healthcare workers present at the healthcare centre, or the building of boundary walls for a school, are problems that are far more easily scaled compared with something like tackling the caste system and the practice of untouchability. For larger issues, they have to go beyond a few videos and campaigns are launched. Future campaigns to be undertaken by Video Volunteers include: Dismantle Patriarchy, Monitor Maternal Health, Forced Evictions, Pass Ya Fail: Right to Education and Article 17 to End Untouchability. Of these, the campaign to end untouchability has progressed with 45 videos being presented as evidence in the Supreme Court and 40 will be submitted when the matter comes up for hearing. The goal to be achieved is the enforcement of Article 17 by law enforcement agencies. ‘Untouchability should not be treated as a social problem but a criminal offence!’ says Stalin.


Though Video Volunteers has received recognition for the good work done, like most non-profit organisations it depends on donations to continue making a difference in our society. To learn more about Video Volunteers and how you can contribute, please visit www.videovolunteers.org.

 

This article is based on a lecture by Stalin K Padma at the Kokum Design Centre, Porvorim. The video has been taken from Video Volunteers' official YouTube channel.